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Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003


Listening post: Live

Wilko Johnson is probably sick of being reminded that he was once the guitarist in the premier British pub-rock band, Dr. Feelgood, and while his stint with Ian Dury and the Blockheads in the late '70s was nothing to sneeze at, the past is the past.

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Nowadays, he heads a power trio, singing the kind of gut-wrenching rhythm and blues he grew up on. His manic stage manner and white-hot playing style are legendary among aficionados of barroom blues, but as a fan he's beholden mainly to two contemporaries: Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. Legend has it that he was once given a pass to go backstage to meet Dylan and declined because he was too nervous.

In the late '90s, he finally met Morrison, who, at the time, was planning on doing an all-R&B tour. Morrison's manager asked Johnson to put together a backup band. He did, and the group practiced a whole bunch of standards, from Leadbelly to Johnny Otis to Ray Charles to Lloyd Fulson, as well as some Morrison compositions. They recorded a demo for Morrison but, in the end, Johnson introduced him to another guitarist. He just didn't think he could play behind a musician he idolized as much as Van the Man. But others heard the demo and thought it was too good to keep in the drawer. Last month it was released here in Japan under the title "Red Hot Rocking Blues," which describes it pretty well. A fairly frequent visitor to these shores, Johnson will be touring the material in October, and you'll get to see what Van Morrison missed out on.

Oct. 22, Drum Be-1, Fukuoka (092) 771-9009; Oct. 23, Hiroshima Club Quattro (082) 542-2280; Oct. 27, Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (Smash, [03] 3444-6751); Oct. 28, Nagoya Club Quattro (052) 264-8211; Oct. 29, Kyoto Takutaku (06) 6361-0313; Oct. 30, Shinsaibashi Club Quattro, Osaka (06) 6361-0313. All shows start 7 p.m., Tickets are 5,500 yen in advance.

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